The Hillside House

By Nicole Dorsey Straff / September 7, 2011

The Hillside House
A glimpse into the cozy vaulted living space on the top floor. Photo: Mariko Reed

The Hillside HouseWhen Tracy Lee, Vice President of Spa Development for Auberge Resorts, fell in love with architect Scott Lee in 2002, he was in the midst of designing Calistoga Ranch for Auberge Resorts, and it was truly a match made in organic heaven. They soon bought an unassuming lot in Mill Valley, California, and began the arduous task of building their dream house. “Both personally and professionally we fell in love with this community and embarked on creating this house from rock and dirt. It was very important for us to create a sustainable home because it’s, ultimately, everything we believe in,” says Tracy Lee. (Left: Tracy and Scott Lee with their daughters, Cameron (left) and Judi Jo. Photo: John Granen)

There’s only a handful of LEED houses in Northern California, and when the Lee’s found a builder, an interior designer, and various other consultants who were philosophically aligned with their principles on sustainable living, it was full-steam ahead. “The house is only 2,100 square feet and built on a very steep slope; it’s practically vertical but very livable,” says Lee. In fact, they were often over-budget and behind schedule. “We began building in 2005, the year we got married. Along the way we had two daughters and finally moved in December 2009.”

The Hillside House
The top level is an inviting loft-like space that’s home to the kitchen (elevated in a stage of concrete), dining room, and living room. Photo: Matthew Millman

Carefully carved into a precipitous hillside and set amid towering oaks, the four-story home wends its way around the trees, driven by mountain views and defined by the intimate relationship between indoors and out. Across from the Golden Gate Bridge, the home’s living areas are set on their own floors and every space has a private terrace. Each window embraces views of the San Francisco skyline, and a covered terrace acts as an indoor/outdoor family room off the main living level, visually expanding the space.

The Hillside House
The orange light fixture, crated from a buoy, adds a playful touch. Photo: Mariko Reed

The surrounding hills provide lower floors with natural insulation, and solar power supplies electricity and hot water. A central automation and lighting system, LED lights, super-insulated doors and windows, and drought-tolerant landscaping conserve additional resources.

Local availability, recycled materials, and sustainable production drove the selection of each minute detail and every appliance. The LEED for Homes rating system, administered by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is the nationally recognized standard for the design and construction of high-performance green homes, and a Platinum ranking like this one establishes the home as the pinnacle of sustainable construction and design practices.

The Hillside House

The second floor’s master bedroom features tactile details, such as the cowhide-upholstered wall and coverlet cleverly made from Coyuchi bath towels that have been sewn together. Photo: Matthew Millman

How to Green Up Your Home

“You don’t have to be in the design business to make the right decisions about living sustainably,” says Lee. Here are additional details from spa maven Tracy:

Our Biggest Challenge

“All the LEED documentation is very time-consuming and exacting. From detailing the eco-insulation, each individual building requirement and even the nearness to public transportation, everything gets extremely technical but must be noted.”

The Hillside House
Sliding glass doors lead outside to the terrace with custom-built concrete tub and amazin views. Photo: Matthew Millman

The Biggest Surprise

“The ancient oak tree in front of our house makes us feel like we live in a tree house. Our yoga deck is 300 square feet and serves as our yard. The turf on this deck is completely made from recycled plastic materials.”

My Biggest Pleasure

“Our master bath has an outdoor tub and the guestroom has an outdoor shower that connects the indoors to the outdoor space. Even living primarily inside, I feel a soul connection to living outdoors and that’s of paramount importance to our family.”

The Hillside House

“It’s all about this site, taking what nature has given us and building upon the fabric that has been laid down by those who have come before us. As the world becomes more complex, and the spaces we use become more specialized, architecture becomes more challenging. This blend of art and science, beauty and function, requires we know a lot about everything. Consequently, we are always growing.” —Scott Lee Photo: Matthew Millman

Download the Resource Guide: The Hillside House Team

Nicole Dorsey Straff

Nicole Dorsey Straff

Nicole Dorsey, M.S. is a travel and wellness expert who earned a Master’s Degree in the health sciences while writing and editing for industry giants, such as The New York Times, Fitness Magazine and Her true passion is adventure travel and her spa reporting has taken her all over the world.
Nicole Dorsey Straff

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